In many ways this podcast is quite humorous, without really intending
to be. If you have a good grounding in the current capabilities of neuroprosthetics,
and in the theory surrounding the development of such, you will be able
to find the holes the size of small countries in the arguments presented
here. The author of this podcast is clearly worried about such a future,
and of course, worry in and of itself is not a bad thing. Uneducated
For the remainder of this notes section, the original content of the
podcast is in normal text, whilst our responses and clarifications follow
"At the rate that technology is advancing, people will be implanting
chips into our childrento advertise directly into their brains and tell
them what kind of products to buy" - Hillary Clinton.
This quote starts off the podcast and remains on screen for ten
seconds, to give it full impact. It is of course, inaccurate. Where
would you implant a chip to do this? You would have to tap into working
memory, subconscious, and probably the pleasure centre as well. Are
you going to carve out chunks of the brain to do this? What do you destroy
when you are drilling to put these implants in? These questions seem
to be conveniently ignored. It might some day be possible to do all
this, in 80 or 90 years, perhaps, but by then we will have developed
defences against these currently-imaginary technologies that tunnel
precisely through brain tissue and build complex circuitry in-situ.
Also, if they affect everyone, since it would be prohibitively expensive
to operate on every child independently, they are apparently spread
on the wind or in the water supply, so as to reach everybody. How exactly
are they intelligent enough to only affect human brains? Why not dogs,
cats, birds or mice as well? . There are so many logical fallacies in
this argument that after a while, it completely falls apart.
The audio sets off at this point. "If you look at things historically,
every brick fits in to place. And for the prime mover, I don't even
care what it might be. But, the urge to control and dominate, that is
pretty much universal. And, when you look over a couple of hundred years,
then boy, we're marching to that road. Also since time immemorial, although
people might want to be led by a blade of power, governmentally or otherwise
the desire for individuality is certainly a pressing desire in human
nature. People are not willingly going to embrace this, even with a
level of fear. You're talking about chips that stop individuallity.
I don't care how afraid somebody is, they are not going to say 'Yes!
Hand me one of those!'"
The first audio segment proceeds pretty much as above, although
the actual audio has a lot more ums and uhs and pregnant pauses in it.
However the point they are trying to make is pretty clear. Putting a
chip into the brain magically cures individual thought. Somehow.
Of course in reality, the brain is a frighteningly complex computer
system with 10,000,000,000 cells, each one of which is in communication
with a hundred others at any given time, both electrically and chemically.
Placing a tiny microchip into some magic point within the brain, that
is apparently the centre for individual thought, will whip all the neurons
into line, and make everyone think as desired.
Well, it is remotely theoretically feasible what is being described
here, but it would not be a tiny chip. The brain has multiple redundant
areas and an impressive amount of plasticity. The only effective way
to do as desired, is to implant a hefty array of separate chips tapping
into short and long term memory, sensosomatery processing, large areas
of the hind brain to control instincts, the pleasure centre and higher
These chips will need conspicuous amounts of wiring in between them.
You would require both neural readers and neurostimulators, (placed
a discrete distance apart, for obvious reasons), and you may need to
cut out some areas of the brain all together. In other words, you need
to completely rewire it, or design a new brain from scratch, whichever
is easier. In all likelihood, the build from scratch would be easier.
When seen in this light, the claims for total mind control from
a chip in the brain seem humorous at best.
"That's right." The audio continues. "You would have to have several
years of starvation or a build up to it. You never start a premature
revolution. You have years to prepare the people. Many years of university
meeting, and these guys never mention the politics. They put together
a wishlist to be put through for politics."
Right. As is usually the case in cutting edge technology, especially
in sensitive areas like brain augmentation, the politicians and the
Stupid kind of get in the way. Brain chips or neuroprosthetics aren't
the sort of thing you can politicise positively, all we get are idiotic
campaigns like this one, looking at potential negatives without understanding
the hard science. We can use the chips to restore partial lost function,
or add new function to the brain. That is pretty much it, and will be
for a long, long time.
"This will be a positive thing and taught to be a positive thing, through
kindergarten, through novels, through cartoons, movies, etceteras, as
a positive thing to advance towards."
Shown to be a positive thing by quadriplegics who can open and close
the curtains with a thought, drive their own wheelchairs with a thought,
mutes who can control synthetic larynxes with pure thought. You missed
those real-world examples out.
"Out comes a Robin Williams movie called 'The Cutter'"?
Which does not exist, at least according to Google and IMDB. Perhaps
you got the name somewhat wrong?
We switch to scenes from films at this point "I-Tec introduces
the ninth generation of an entirely organic, scientific breakthrough.
The Zoe implant?"
"?There you go, there's the chip in the brain, and it's going to be
a nice thing you can have a deceased family member's chip removed as
it dies, see through it's eyes et cetera. All that you see with your
eyes, all that you hear with your ears, will be preserved for loved
ones you leave behind."
The second part of the above was the voice-over presenter again,
filling in the blanks for the movie clip. An implanted chip that holds
every waking memory of every sense for a person's entire LIFE? How big
is the chip? The brain itself cannot hold all that data, it only strips
out the relevant parts and associations. It forgets far, far more than
it retains. You are proposing that a chip inside the brain can remember
Memory augmentation implants are on the drawing board of course,
but only so far as to have a limited internal storage, connecting to
external devices to back-up or long-term store memories and thoughts.
This, is practical, and to be honest desirable, to be able to store
memories you choose to in back-up form. But every experience of every
day for a lifetime? You would never get to store that permanently in
an archive the size of a large city, and composed entirely of neurons
itself, let alone on a tiny chip inside the brain.
"And now they've got it in cartoons for the children; where they'll
be superheroes and have all these special powers."
True, that that is one possible eventual waypoint on brain augmentation,
but, as the saying goes 'when everyone's super, no-one will be'. So
we will likely avoid that outcome.
"They're going to give you a virtual reality. That's how they're
going to sell it to the public."
Eeyup, and give it to the public as well. Since its kind of hard
to put a prosthetic in the wrong place for what you are advertising,
and not have people notice, its safe to say that in the long-term future,
those prosthetics, both invasive and non-invasive that are billed as
sensory interfaces for VR and SimStim, are going to have to be just
what they claim to be. Otherwise, well, they plain won't work if they
are targeting the wrong neurons.
Also see previous comments for putting a neurostimulator and a neural
reader together for underhand implanting. It does not work. All the
reader ends up reading is the output of the stimulator.
Skipping part of an actual documentary, which is accurate, about vision
chips, and memory chips, the podcast pauses and repeats a part about
"some scientists predict we could even one day have a thinking chip"
over and over.
Yes, a 'thinking chip' also known as an artificial brain. Not the
sort of thing you could implant into one, as what is described is basically
a shrunken version of a futuristic supercomputer - a full brain in silicon.
What would be the benefit of nesting multiple brains together? Just
build the new brain into a new body and put a mind into it. Much easier.
Well, making a mind isn't exactly easy, but the gist gets across.
"It's the next step with an active chip that they have tested
for many years, implanted in the brain."
"In a brain!?"
"Yes, in a brain. Just like the matrix movie, you know. "
This dialogue is humorous because of course there wasn't a chip
in the brains in the Matrix movies. That featured a neural jack. All
the processing is on the other end of that. So it's the complete opposite
of what was featured in the Matrix movies.
Also, it is deeply humbling to see what the chip being talked about
can do. Whilst it is never clear from the audio, the pictures seem to
indicate that this is not BrainGate, but something far simpler; a neurostimulator.
These currently just sit in the brain broadcasting a blanket electrical
signal over a small area of it, cancelling out other signals when they
are triggered. The sole use is to calm an area when activity is otherwise
escalating out of control towards possible harm - like an epileptic
seizure. Again, about as far from the Matrix as you can get.
The inevitable completely useless Matrix scene is up next. "Like everyone
else you were born into bondage, born into a prison that you cannot
smell or taste or touch. A prison, for your mind."
So, like a disabled body then. That fits the bill perfectly. Oh
wait, those are what neuroprosthetics are designed to bypass. Better
not mention that aspect?
Next comes a segment about how brain chips seem like science fiction.
Obviously they are not, but this rattles on for a bit. Disturbingly,
one is shown for the camera, except its not a neuroprosthetic being
shown, but a passive RFID tag. Er, that interfaces with nothing,
it's a complete self-contained unit. What is the relevance here? The
segment describing the fictional capabilities of the RFID tag goes on
for a while, including a bit about a coating which interfaces with genetic
material. Er, no.
There is a coating which bonds implants to the neurons, and was
developed in mid 2009. That is probably what is meant here, but it has
no use with radio frequency tagging whatsoever. Might as well apply
it to a toothbrush. The purpose is solely to coat electrodes so that
they are accepted as part of the neural network, and scar tissue formation
between them and the neurons is greatly reduced.